On my arrival in Canada, in 1965, I turned the plastic lens of my Kodak Brownie 127 on the unfamiliar landscape and unusual people of British Columbia.
The former immediately made an impression on me. I still remember vividly my first view from New Westminster of an electrical storm, lighting up the red sky over Mount Baker (to the south, in Washington State). Getting used to the strange manners, dress and accents of my peers was another matter. High school is an alien land no matter where, but I felt as though I’d touched down on Mars. To my Canadian classmates, my appearance must have seemed outlandish.
The idea that I could wear whatever I felt like was exciting, after the strict uniformed life of British schools. I turned up on my first day at the exotically-named Caribou Hill High School in my best Nehru suit, over a round-collared white shirt and thin black tie. I wore my treasured, Cuban-heeled “Beatle boots” — buffed to perfection, of course. A get-up like this would have sent my English headmaster into fits and me right back home to don the school uniform.
I walked into Caribou Hill Hell, where the uniform consisted of Lee Jeans (Levis were tolerated, though inferior), Madras shirts and brown (imagine, brown!) brogue shoes. I was a long way from Carnaby Street.
The most powerful aliens, I soon learned, wore oversized blue cardigans with large embroidered letters on them. It appeared that these coveted “sweaters” were the equivalent of the British Prefect’s badge, but without official imprimatur. It was unclear under whose authority they were issued … but there seemed to be some relationship to the practitioners of “football,” a sport where the ball was rarely kicked and more resembled rugby, as far as I could tell. The “Sweater Club” tribe, like the Prefect class, reflected economic status — that much was clear.
Naturally, I fell in with kids from the other side of the tracks. We were, I was informed by a helpful neighbour and translator, “Greasers.” Ah, Rockers! Well, I was OK with that. Except, when I left England, I’d been pegged as a Mod. Fashion is a fickle mistress.